Many refugee stories are about family or group members getting lost in the chaos of the journey. The social web helps find them again, but here's a thought about solving the core of the problem.
Groups of refugees most probably have top priorities that may look a lot like this:
- Get water for the group
- Get food for the group
- Keep the group together
Idea for 3: A wristband with a GPS sender, which can be synched within a group and be located afterwards.
Idea for combining 1 and 3: The wristband and its GPS element are water proof and distributed together with water bottles, that carry all necessary instructions on their labels, in multiple languages.
On the wristband:
It's made of materials that are impossible or hard to tear apart. The band can easily be put on and fixated to fit the size of any wrist. The GPS element sits at the point where the band's ends come together and serves as the closing mechanism when the band is pulled through it. It can not be removed once put on, other than cutting it off with a knife or scissors. To register whether it was cut off, there is a tiny cable woven into the material and connected to the digital brain of the band - the GPS element. When that happens, the GPS element sends its position one last time and goes into inactive mode. That's when the database of signals will be clean itself up.
On the digital brain:
It is made of a GPS sender, a Bluetooth LE chip, a small LED, and a miniature battery that should last 6 months minimum. The housing should be waterproof and not easily be opened, and not bigger in size than 0,5 x 1 cm. There is a button built into the housing's construction, that can be pressed long for synchronisation (>3 seconds) and shorter for an SOS emergency signal (<1 second). Both actions can be repeated. A new synch overrides the old one, so the band can be re-used for new or extended groups. It may not be possible though, to add single members to an existing synched group without sacrifizing the decice's ease of use. Simplicity is key for the situations it will be used in, that can not be fully anticipated.
On the back, the housing features an engraving of the device's ID and the short URL to the tracking website. (Those information ain't printed so it doesn't wear off)
Synchronisation works with a number of wristbands put on top of each other, everyone covering the next one's digital brain. They are then pressed against each other, so they all go into synch mode. The LED blinks for a few seconds and each band gets the IDs of the other nearby bands (<10cm) via Bluetooth LE. After a few seconds, synching is done and all group members can put on their bands.
The whole synching process can be done by one person, in the dark.
On the bottle:
The wristbands will be distributed and given to people together with water bottles - one of the most needed resources on their journey. It will be put inside the bottle, not glued onto the exterior, where it might fall off. That's one reason why the digital parts of the band need to be water proof, rain and travelling by boat are other reasons.
Also, tying it to water distribution solves logistic and acceptance issues one might have with giving out wristbands. No additional distribution channels are necessary.
In order to minimize scepticism with a water bottle that's got something inside it, that's unidentifiable at first, the wristband should be folded to a small pack and stored inside the bottles' cap. That's also the stablest part of a plastic bottle and shields the band from outside pressure.
On top of that, the bottle makes a corporate sponsorship possible: Mighty food corporations can finance and produce the bands, and distribute it in their own channels. Refugees can recongize the brand's useful experience in their situation and might appreciate the involvement later on as consumers.
We should not forget that those who can afford and organize a successful refuge are many times the most intelligent and capable citizens of their home countries. They use the same up to date technologies that we do every day, and RefuGPS may be one of them.